Looking into Leadership….Know yourself, warts and all
As a young teacher, I was often simultaneously overwhelmed by the responsibility of teaching and overjoyed at the prospect of unlimited potential for creativity, challenge and fun in my classroom each day. And I thought the Grade 4 homeroom was the absolute best level to teach. However, after a number of classroom years I thought I should give school administration a try. Realistically I was blissfully unaware of all the challenges to come my way, but I had observed my principal, soaked up what I could, and was very lucky to work in a very collaborative school. (Back then we just knew we better be working together to pull off all the events we did!)
I am ever so thankful for the good folks in my first admin appointment who put up with a lot of missteps in those first years. I quickly noted that my safe place was still the teaching assignment, in pretty stark contrast to the minute by minute challenges of the admin world. The feeling that I was ‘on’ as soon as I walked through the door in the morning, and was needed to make decisions, lend a hand, advise, discipline, call parents, and find a second for lunch sometime during the day was another definition of overwhelming. I often wished I could just get my coat off before the first person rolled through the door. That was a dream.
I came to realize that this new side of the office door was going to be a ‘new’ busy place no matter what I wished for or wanted, and this is what I had signed up for. Well, maybe not this exactly, but no backing out now. I found that the decisions most important were not the ones involving things like timetable scheduling, event planning, or even budgeting. It was the emotional response I would have to situations that called for a cool head, a step back, a way to help others understand themselves and their actions; moreover, a way to help others work through situations while refraining from providing a one-sided quick fix. To do this I came to understand that while in the classroom I always strived to be the teacher the students wanted me to be; as administrator I was thinking about what my staff wanted me to be, how they would describe me to others, and how I would grow as an administrator. To do that I knew I had to look inward and reflect on me as a person.
I needed to acknowledge the traits I admire in others, and those I aspired to be. That seemed easy. After all, who wouldn’t want to be a trusted, fair, collaborative, honest, kind yet firm when needed leader? But how would I communicate these traits consistently? How would my communication skills ensure that these traits be steadily apparent even in the most difficult of situations?
I needed to acknowledge the warts in myself that may influence my view of the school environment: those characteristics or habits of staff that I might view as problematic, or conversely they in me. How would I respond constructively? What strategies and language would I use to be honest yet diplomatic to find the best in each person (teeth-gritting included)?
And, I needed to acknowledge that I did not have all the answers and likely never would, but knowing myself was a first step into leadership.